Chapter 18: Ruins of Chaos 2 – Descent
Descend into the deepest recesses of Icathia’s plight
Gaze upon it shall you, the last bastion of the Goddess’ light.
A beacon of hope for the world’s wounds to mend
In a land so marred by a corruption intent to bring our end.
Temple of the Seers, Icathia
They descended a long staircase, a series of twists and turns through the bowels of the earth itself to end up at the arched opening of a long, musty corridor. The looming darkness in front of them was thick, almost suffocating as their sense of sight was rendered useless in the face of its overwhelming shroud. The silence was unnerving, almost ominous; giving Fiora an unshakable chill that something was waiting for them on the other side to step into its grasps. Lux swung her staff with soft, fluid motions as she channeled a light spell into it, a bright flare wavering wildly before stablizing at its tip to resemble a torch. Her light spell revealed a narrow hallway comprised of stone walls, dilapidated and bare with the exception of a series of torches that lined the walls in between arched pathways too numerous to count.
Raising his hand with curled fingers in front of him, Ashram channeled flames into the palm of his hand, swinging it outwards to release a series of Fire spells. A series of whooshing sounds echoed through the hallway as bursts of orange and red connected with the torches, bathing the corridor in a bright orange glow. A second series of growls echoed through the hallways, seeming to appear from no direction in particular. Not good…too many dark hiding spots to ambush from, Fiora thought as she drew out her Highwind, holding it to her side in striking position.
Taking point, Talon and Shen navigated through the winding corridors of the underground cathedral, the torches faint blotches of brightness along their path, instead relying on their keen sense of sound to compensate for poor visibility in the darkened ruins. With the exception of Fiora’s obvious signs of anxiety, their time in Icathia had been oddly uneventful. Despite the animalistic noises earlier, they had encountered no signs of life outside of each other, the weathered path seemingly unventured for countless generations.
That thought changed very quickly as the sound of a loud growl reached their ears. No sooner had their minds processed this than a Hellhound pounced from an unlit room, exposed fangs dripping in anticipation of its next meal. As Talon quickly dodged the attack and followed it up with a successful stab to its abdomen with his armblade, the sound of multiple howls echoed through the convoluted corridors. Numerous Hellhound minions subsequently appeared with almost every turn of the corner, the two swordsmen keeping busy to dispose of the incoming threats. While the canines specialized in their sense of smell to track their prey, the two swordsman’s familiarity with nighttime combat and the use of shadows to their advantage placed them on equal terms with the beasts, allowing their superior skills with blades to give them the advantage. With even the most subtle of movements and sounds, they were able to tell their opponent’s position, diving into the shadows to seek them out before they could retaliate. The deeper they went, however, the more creatures that appeared. It wasn’t long before the path was lined with piles of ash left over as corpses disintegrated from their attacks.
“Mangy beasts,” Talon exclaimed angrily as he retracted spinning blades to bring them back under his control, disposing of the last of the demonic canines. “Where the hell did all of them come from?”
“It’s recent. This place looks like it hadn’t been disturbed for over a millennium until recently. It looks like the others came to the same conclusion about this place.” Ashram suggested as he stepped forward, taking point as the echoing grows in the air had finally ceased.
“Yeah, and they left behind a nice welcoming gift for us.” Vayne said aloud in a sarcastic tone as she trailed behind the others alongside Lux, covering their backs in the event of an ambush.
As they navigated the winding dark pathway, the air began to feel heavy, the musty odor exacerbating Fiora’s nausea until it took every bit of her willpower to hold back the heaves that rose to her throat with every breath she took. Crossing the threshold of one final arched doorway laden with multiple jewels and inscriptions, they came to a large round chamber, the contents of which were hidden by darkness save for a central stone pillar that seemed to generate its own source of light.
They treaded carefully, circling around the large altar, which stood at twice the height of a typical person. Its base was comprised of a square block of white marble, narrowing on the way up along a smooth, slanted surface. An ornate golden ornament comprised of multiple circular swirls stood at the top of the obelisk, creating a pattern of multiple rings arranged in a staggered pattern. Each of the rings emitted a bright aura of different colors, converging at the center into an almost blinding white nexus that spread its energy downward along the surface of the altar.
“Looks like this is it,” Ashram announced as he carefully examined the structure for even the slightest hint of traps. “The aura of light that surrounds this altar is likely the result of the magic of the early Seers, granting a protective shell against the chaotic effects of the Void for future generations of Seers. With it, I believe it will protect us from the Void’s negative influences and prevent us from following the same route as Malzahar and Kassadin after their visions of the Undying Realm.
“How do we use it?” Fiora asked in a harsh voice, causing the others to turn to see her keeled over with a face that looked as though she was struggling to remain standing. “Let’s just get this over with and get out of here.”
“Well aren’t you just the most pleasant gal to work with.” Vayne said sarcastically, causing Ashram and Lux to shoot her an angry look.
What is their problem? Vayne thought to herself, surprised at their reaction as she turned her gaze back towards her purple haired companion, analyzing her movements. What in the world is going on with her anyways? I’ve seen her cut people to shreds without even breaking a sweat. Now she looks like she’s about to die even though she hadn’t raised her blade since we landed.
Turning her gaze towards Talon and Shen, who had been standing beside her, it was clear that they had noticed the same thing, though they had refrained from commenting on it. She knew something was going on with the duelist, and Ashram and Lux were in on it. What is it you’re hiding from the rest of us?
Turning his attention back towards the altar in front of him, Ashram took a few steps forward, holding an extended right hand forward to come within inches of it. The white aura surrounding the altar seemed to pulse with his approach, increasing in intensity as a white shard of crystal appeared in the Summoner’s hand.
“This is-“ Ashram exclaimed in surprise as he brought it back towards him to examine the crystal closely. Staring into the small crystal that rested in the palm of his hands, he saw swirls of brilliant white energy that flowed through the inside of the crystal. “The Goddess’ blessing. How? Here in Icathia of all places…”
“Why do you say that?” Lux asked as she followed suit, holding her hand out as a white crystal began to form in the palm of her hands. A bright flash of light dispersed the crystal, redirecting colorful streaks of energy towards her Celestia staff. She looked in shock as a white crystal became embedded into the tip of the metallic staff, glowing brilliantly as swirls of white flowed in a circular pattern. “Wha-…what just happened?”
“This altar…it’s powers were not based on dark magic, but rather on the crystal…the powers of the Goddess. This is quite a surprising discovery…and an ironic one at that.” Ashram explained as he pocketed the crystal in his hands. “All accounts of Icathia tell of its trials in using dark arts that violate the norms of the Goddess’ teachings. Who would have expected that the Seers themselves would seek the power of crystal to protect themselves from madness!”
Ignoring the Summoner’s fascinated musings, Fiora raised hand to use the altar, its energy pouring into her hand. Initially, the flow of energy down her extended arm was overwhelming, but it quickly became a source of relief, feeling unexpectedly stronger, and her breathing becoming slightly easier. She looked at the top of the altar in an almost entranced state, feeling the warmth of its energy partly relieving her of the pain that had made her every moment a living hell. Though she didn’t know why, she instinctively held up her other hand to her chest, lowering her head with her eyes closed to allow the flowing aura to focus above her sternum. She felt the crystal materialize and embed itself into the pendant given to her by her mother.
This pendant…its presence is almost a symbol of who I’ve been ever since the fateful day when it was given to me in Demacia. I wore it proudly until she passed away…I then kept it hidden but near me at all times. It was with me when Dad died, when I joined the League…when I met him- the person I initially despised only for it to evolve into this strange trust, this…whatever it is.
Opening her eyes again, the dull blue eyes that seemed lifeless moments ago now appeared stronger, as she took a deep, smooth breath that had been impossible for days. She felt the darkness inside of her still present, but more contained, walled off from the rest of her by a mysterious force that she couldn’t understand. Nor did she care for an explanation; the end result being the only thing that her currently fragile consciousness cared about. Whereas before it took all of her effort just to keep it from taking over every inch of her body, the presence of the new pendant that hung from her neck seemed to keep the evil at bay.
As the rest of them proceeded to follow suit, similar results were met. With the exception of Ashram and Fiora, crystals became embedded into their respective weapons, surrounding them with bright auras that seemed to pulsate at different intensities depending on their wills.
“This is supposed to protect us?” Ezreal asked, holding up the amulet on his arm to reveal three arched rings in a staggered pattern as though he held a miniature figurine of the altar design.
“For some of you, it does so in more ways than one.” Ashram answered, breaking the silence of everyone examining their crystal blessings. “It gave each of us what we would need to be able to protect ourselves, not only from the influence of the Void, but also from the evil that exists there. For most of you, it seems your weapons have been augmented, allowing you to use your normal combat abilities more effectively. For others…it provided you with what you needed.”
Fiora cocked her head slightly at the former High Councilor, fully aware that his last statement was targeted at her. It was a truth that she couldn’t deny, as it gave her a feeling of hope that had been lost ever since that fated day in Demacia. Even as this thought crossed her mind, she couldn’t let go of the lingering thought that this relief was but a temporary calm in the storm; that it would be inevitable before the growing darkness inside of her would become too strong even for this newfound strength to stop.
Backtracking from the altar, they navigated their way through the seemingly endless convoluted hallways of the temple without further trouble, using the lit torches as a guided path back to the surface. Ascending the final steps that led to the surface, they opened their eyes to a dizzying brightness, raising their hands to shield their eyes from the glare. Even though the ominous dark overcast continued to linger over the ruins, the dim rays of sunlight penetrating through the clouds were far brighter than what their eyes had become used to in the underground labyrinth.
Talon let out a sigh of relief as they passed through the threshold of the doorway into the open ruins of Icathia, freeing himself of the confined spaces that made him feel trapped. Even though their efforts proved fruitful, the last place he had wanted to be was within the dark confines of the underground temple. It reminded him far too much of the underground bazaar in Noxus, where in order to survive as an orphan, he had killed without prejudice. It was a world where morals had no place, and life itself was synonymous with brutality. Navigating the dark paths within the temple brought all the desperation of his former life back, flooding his consciousness with images of the things he had to do and people he had to kill just to survive. It reminded him of the person he once considered to be his best friend…and the blood on his hands after he killed him when his purpose ran out. As he leaned his back on the warm limestone of the temple, careful to not rip his cape along the rough rocks that jutted out from the ruined wall, he looked at the people around him, examining their features.
Shauna, Shen, Ezreal, Lux, Reginald, and Fiora…even knowing what kind of person I was, you chose to accept my offer to help and fought beside me. I can only wonder…had any of you been in my position growing up, would you have ended up a cold blooded killer like myself…or would you have been the better person? Thoughts of his childhood and the League Judgement reflective of it came rushing back, shaking his head in disappointment at how his life had turned out prior to his departure from the Institute of War. Kavyn…how cold and selfish I was in the past. Everything you did was to help both of us survive but all I cared about was myself. How different things might have been…had we companions like them to show us the way…
“This way, let’s hurry back to the ship and get movin-“ Ezreal announced, sand shifting softly under his feet as he stood from his seated position. He motioned to lead the way towards their airship before stopping at the sight of an approaching robed figure. “Huh…who is that?”
The rest of the party stopped in their tracks, their gazes meeting where the explorer had become focused on. A figure wearing a long robe with alternating stripes of red and yellow that extended from his shoulders to his ankles moved in a firm and steady pace. Colors fluttered wildly in the presence of a strong gust that suddenly picked up, contrasting the rest of the body that moved far too smoothly. A brown hood covered his face, obscuring their view of his features, save for a short aged beard of brown alternating with strands of gray.
“So proudly stands here the prophesized ones…the heroes few, destined to cross the rift; for them to bear, the weight of the world, and the Goddess’ gift.” The cloaked figure announced in a loud voice as he came within a few yards of them, pausing sharply with those last words.
“Who are you, and what are you doing in this place?” Talon asked aloud, darting forward past the explorer to stand crouched in a defensive stance.
“Hmm, so this is what the child has resorted to…working with the enemy.” The cloaked figure replied in a tone filled with malice, a subtle shake of its head reflected in the appearance of creases on alternating sides. “Is this how much loyalty is worth to your pathetic existence?”
“Child…loyalty…worth…What the **** are you trying to say? Just who are you anyways?” Talon demanded, raising his right arm to reveal his blade, swirls of energy flowing in a rhythmic pattern inside a crystal embedded within the surface.
“Is that any way to talk to your superior?” He replied in a taunting tone, raising his hand to lift the brown colored fabric from his head to reveal short curled brown hair interlaced with strands of gray, similar in fashion to that of his beard. Pitch black pupils peered through narrowed eyelids held in a malicious stare. The rest of his face was smooth, showing a complete lack of lines of aging that contrasted the strands of gray in his hair. It was a face that he would never forget…one which tensed every muscle in his body to cling desperately to a logic that was slipping away with every heartbeat.
“I-Impossible!” Talon exclaimed, his face was held in an expression of pure horror as his subconscious fought against his senses over whether his perceived reality was within the scope of possibility.
“So, after all this time, you still remembered.” The robed man replied in a cold voice that was all too familiar to the assassin.
“Talon, you know this person?” Shauna Vayne asked, staring at the Noxian intently with her right hand raised in front of her chest, a brilliant aura flowing from a small crystal along the small metallic crossbow mounted on her wrist reacting to the presence of a nearby evil.
“General…Marcus du Couteau!” He said in an unsteady voice, indicating that he was clearly shaken up by his former commanding officer’s appearance. “Where have you been?”
While his instincts kept telling him that something was clearly not right with the situation, Talon couldn’t help but feel happy at the general’s presence. The whereabouts of the person in front of him wasn’t merely just his reason for joining the League, but rather, until recently, his whole purpose for existing. Countless months spent searching, only for the target of his efforts to mysteriously find him, in the most unlikely of places.
“How are you even here?” Talon asked as he took a few steps forward towards the general, only for a hand to grab him from behind by the shoulder, throwing him onto the ground. Ignoring the pain of landing on his tailbone, he looked over his shoulder to see his purple-haired companion standing behind him, her hands held out in front of him as she looked towards du Couteau with icy blue eyes. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
“Stay back, Talon! Something is very wrong here.” Fiora warned angrily as she gazed upon the Noxian general apprehensively.
She had seen eyes like those before, pitch black globes shooting piercing glares of malice that penetrated the fragile shell protecting her soul, scaring it without effort. Even without the manifestation of the dark aura, the duelist felt the darkness inside of her gradually becoming stronger in the presence of this man. The newfound comfort and relief that the crystal provided was fleeting with every passing moment as she once again felt the growing chaos in her soul clawing to escape from its confines.
“How observant,” General du Couteau said in an amused voice before vanishing in a puff of black smoke, only to appear next to the duelist. “It seems that the dog has found himself some friends.”
Moving on instinct, Fiora quickly drew her Highwind, delivering a horizontal swipe at the Noxian general, the sharp edge of her blade meeting thin air as he disappeared again in a second puff of black smoke.
“Outcasts, each and every one of you.” He continued as he reappeared next to Shen, who drew his blade to attack, only to meet the same result as the duelist.
“Trash that is no better than mangy hounds of the Void.” His taunt continued, materializing next to Ezreal who manifested a white bow of energy, firing a blast of arcane energy an instant later that passed through the general, vanishing only to reappear back at his original spot a moment later.
“You journey to stop the inevitable future, completely unaware of the suffering that awaits you. But I am not without forgiveness. After all, you have witnessed firsthand that I am capable of mercy, my loyal assassin. So, I shall give you a chance…join me by my side again and serve me. If you do, I shall spare you just like I did last time, and together we shall rise to a level reserved only for the Gods.” He announced in a strong and proud voice, staring intently at Talon, who had managed back onto his feet.
“Rejoin you?” Talon mused aloud, his body taking a step forward as though to accept, only to stop moments later; his conflicting conscience deterring him from making a fatal mistake. “Just a few days ago, had you made such an offer, I would have accepted it without a second thought. My devotion was unconditional and blind. Now, however, after everything that I’ve been through, I realized something. I served you loyally and killed countless people because I was without my own purpose, without goals or a future. You’re right, I was nothing more than your loyal lapdog, but things have changed. They helped me realize that this whole time, I was complacent with it because I couldn’t bear living aimlessly without purpose…acting as your blade filled that gap. But now, that’s different. Now, the world is about to fall apart and I’m ironically one of the few people who can save it. I know that you aren’t really him…but he is in there somewhere and I know that deep down, if he was in my position, he would make the same decision.”
Talon proceeded to position himself into a battle stance, holding his arm blade in front of his face as an aura of holy magic flowed wildly along its edge. He shifted his gaze slightly to see Fiora and Vayne walking to his side, their weapons drawn and poised to strike.
“We travel the same path...to stop the chaos you hope to unleash onto this world.” Vayne said as she instinctively checked the smaller crossbow, now flowing with holy energy, ensuring it was loaded and ready to strike.
“Our goals are one and the same, to stop the spread of your chaos and bring peace to this world again.” Fiora said as she swung her Highwind to her side, crouching slightly into a defensive position.
“To stand by those who have supported me…to end the cycle of death and betrayal that has filled my life with emptiness…and to actually fight for the betterment of this world. That is my new purpose!” Talon announced proudly, affirming his decision to stand by his companions to the end.
“To betray your master simply because you found some new friends. How pathetic!” Du Couteau as he crouched to the ground, slamming his hand onto the ground to create a crimson red rune circle under his feet.
Three large mounds of earth began to rise from the ground around him as grains of sand flowed downward along their sides like fountains, driven by gravity’s pull. As three distinct roars filled the air, a set of uniquely colored carapace extended through the descending streams of sand, flailing wildly to free themselves from the earth around them. Lux let out a gasp of horror as the dust began to thin, revealing the demonic silhouette of the Void creatures Cho’gath and Kog’Maw alongside an unfamiliar third creature that was larger in size than the other two.
“Some places in this world are said to be cursed and forbidden for a reason. Now that the odds are a little more in my favor, I’ll make you regret ever setting foot into these feared ruins.” General du Couteau announced, followed by the lour roars of the three demonic creatures that almost seemed to react on cue.
“Bring it! I lost to you in the past…let me show you just how much better I’ve become!” Talon exclaimed as the three of them charged forward to face off against the general.
A rumble began to fill the air as the three of them neared the general. Feeling the ground beneath them beginning to shake, they instantly lunged to the side as spines began to rise from the ground. As they got to their feet, an explosion took place in front of them, kicking copious amounts of dirt into the air. The dust settled to leave behind a small crater filled with a steaming green substance.
“**** it, those creatures won’t let us get anywhere near-“ Talon began to say, his words interrupted as a barrage of five Blitz spells flew by them, connecting with the carapace of Kog’Maw.
A series of loud pops echoed through the ruins as the attacks landed, followed by a loud snarl of pain from the insect-like Void creature. As the smoke cleared, drops of green oozed from multiple wounds on the creature. Without pause, the mouth of the abyss darted towards the Lady of Luminosity, opening its mouth to launch several globs of acid towards her in rapid succession along the way.
Following suit, Cho’gath sprinted rapidly towards the blonde mage, large spines raised over its head in preparation to strike. Two bursts of arcane energy connected with the large beast’s armored spines, each of which blasted through to cause the elongated projections to land on the ground. Letting out a feral growl of pain, the Terror of the Void turned its attention towards the explorer, wielding a bow comprised of swirls of white energy that extended from the rings of crystal over his amulet.
The remaining creature stood silently in its original position, crouched on all four of its limbs, each of which terminated in two sharp processes that appeared almost amphibian-like. A sinister pair of glowing yellow eyes took up most of the top half of its face, below which a large mouth opened in a large malicious grin that exposed a row of sharp teeth. Swirls of markings ran along its body, which was a dark red color, except for multiple sharp silver spines that projected from its back. A long tail emerged from its posterior end, terminating in several spikes that looked identical to those mounted on its back.
Ashram watched as the large burgundy colored creature open its mouth, letting out two clouds of what resembled black smoke towards the other Void creatures, causing the wounds that had been inflicted to instantly heal. It raised its tail into the air, curling it in the direction of the other two Void creatures in a manner resembling that of a scorpion before launching two of its spines towards them.
Shen watched in disgust as the spines impaled Cho’gath and Kog’maw, causing them to let out loud roars of pain. Disgust, however, quickly turned into horror as the spines that had embedded into the Void creatures began to burrow themselves deeper into the creatures, eventually disappearing as the carapace closed in around it. A sharp screech echoed through the air as a large aura of dark energy erupted from Cho’gath and Kog’maw, their bodies appearing to twist and distort painfully. Numerous spines erupted from their bodies, causing them to both resemble large porcupines. As the spines engulfed every inch of their previous bodies, they charged towards their respective opponents in a mindless fury.
“Summoner Ashram, what is that foul creature. Its energy is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” Shen asked as he stared intently at the mysterious creature, reaching behind him to draw his dual katana.
“No…it can’t be,” Ashram said in deep thought, a grave look of concern on his face. “They managed to create it…a Proto-Aesir, Omen.”
“Proto-Aesir…that means-“ Shen began to say in an unnerved voice that contrasted his normally composed demeanor.
“It is extremely powerful. An idea that stemmed back to when I was still amongst them. We were instructed to use the raw essence of the Void to artificially create a creature powerful enough to control the very chaos of the Void itself. I split from the Institute when we were still in the process of gathering enough chaos energy from the Void to create it. It appears that they have succeeded in finishing my work. To this day, I don’t understand the reason behind why its creation was necessary. I assumed at the time that it was to be used as a weapon of war…but I wonder…” Ashram explained, a white aura of energy flowing along the edge of his Mageblade as he drew it from his sheath.
“Cho’gath and Kog’maw…they appear almost mindless and feral, unlike the times when I’ve encountered them in the Summoner’s Arenas.” Shen mused, gathering natural energy from the environment around him to channel it into one of his swords, the other of which was augmented by an aura of holy energy that flowed from the small crystal embedded in the hilt.
“The Proto-Aesir is tied to whatever essence it’s created from, and thus has control over everything that comes from it. In the same way that all of life on Runeterra is tied to the life stream of this world, so are the creatures of the Void with its essence. I helped create it…it’s my responsibility to destroy it.” The former High Councilor said before lunging forward, casting a barrage of five Blitz spells from his free hand at the Proto-Aesir.
Anticipating the incoming attacks, Omen raised its tail towards the incoming attacks, simultaneously channeling a series of Chaos Blitz spells on its tip before firing them at each of the incoming holy spells, cancelling them out in a series of mid-air explosions. It proceeded to follow this up with a second attack, opening its mouth to form a sphere of dark energy before firing a beam of dark energy towards the former High Councilor.
Ashram raised his sword in front of his chest, channeling additional energy into his blade in preparation to launch a counterattack. He stopped his movements as a set of purple crescents descended a few meters in front of him, colliding with the incoming attack to create a large explosion, forcing him to brace himself against the incoming shockwave. Moments later, Shen appeared next to him, blades held in battle stance.
“She is beginning to rub off on you,” Shen said, causing the Summoner to snort angrily at his insinuations. “I don’t know the extent of your abilities, but at this point, if the Proto-Aesir is as powerful as you’re implying, there’s no need to be reckless and fight this thing alone. I will fight alongside you.”